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The Burger King Promotion Fail

Burger King Promotion FailMonday’s Pizza Factory promotion fail reminded me about both good and bad business experiences. Often the proper solution to a business problem seems so obvious as a consumer, while remaining shrouded in mystery to the owner. As I commented on the Pizza Factory thread, I was reminded of a bad business decision I was forced to participate in years ago. The comment got so long, I’ve decided to create a post about it instead.

When I was a college freshman (1982–1983), I worked at the Burger King that used to be in Provo, Utah, near the BYU football stadium. The Burger King Corporation was running a huge “The Whopper Beats the Big Mac” promotion. With this nationwide promotion, the customer simply approached a cashier and proclaimed, “The Whopper beats the Big Mac.” (Psychological reinforcement!) The reward would be two Whoppers for the price of one.

The campaign was very successful and drove a ton of business to our store.

Being close to the stadium (and when the university still allowed outside food to be brought in), football game days were always huge business. We had to pull extra staff with someone to man every area just to feed the lines that went around the foyer, out the door, and onto the sidewalk. When a football game occurred during the middle of the the Whopper/Big Mac battle, our franchise owners decided not to honor the national campaign discount, thinking they would make more money refusing the two for one deal.

They used the (legal) out by noting that the national campaign’s small print said it only applied to “participating dealers.” Now, of course, the Provo store was a “participating dealer”…most of the time. Just not when they didn’t want to participate.

Game day came and we were flooded, as usual. The cashiers were instructed to take the awkward position that we were no longer a “participating dealer” in the national campaign, explaining to customer after customer that they could not get the discount, no matter how loudly they shouted out the awesomeness of Whoppers.

Some people ordered anyway, begrudgingly, because of time or transportation constraints. Some walked out. But all those who came in with the intent to take advantage of the offer were angry that it was denied.

Although I wasn’t privy to the franchise books in my lowly position, I’m quite sure the decision did far more harm than good. Customers were angry, they felt cheated, they left — no pun intended — with a very bad taste in their mouths. Many declared they would never come back. I suspect they were true to their words.

In a service business, the customer is (burger) king.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Bryan Jacobson April 10, 2013, 4:17 pm

    Nice post! There is no business upside to disappointing customers.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 10, 2013, 10:33 pm

    Spot on, Bryan. If they don’t leave with a positive impression, chances are you lost them as a customer. In most businesses, there is just too much competition for people to put up with a bad experience.
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  • Left Field April 11, 2013, 5:18 pm

    This reminded me of a similar story when I was a BYU student about the same time. Down the hill below the McDonald Student Health Center and below my usual haunts in the WIDB was a then-unpaved student lot colloquially known as the gravel pit, where I frequently parked. One day, as it happened, a tire went flat literally as I pulled into my parking space. I guess if you’re going to get a flat tire, there couldn’t be a more convenient location. I jacked up the car and put on the spare. Equally fortuitously to the location of the flat, there was a gas station/garage directly south of the gravel pit. Due to its convenient location, I often bought gas there. The place was known as Cougar Service at the time, but Google tells me it’s now called Bradford Automotive. I sauntered across the street to see if I could leave my tire to be repaired. I figured I could pick it up at the end of the day, or perhaps the next day, whenever it was ready, or whenever it was convenient for me to go over and get it.

    I approached the guy in the garage and asked if I could leave a flat to be repaired. The guy responded with what I can only describe as vicious contempt. “I’m NOT going to drop what I’m doing to jump on a flat tire just because you want it done now. I don’t DO that any more. It’s not worth my time. If you want to leave it here, I’ll get to it when I can, but I’m NOT going to do it until I’m done with more important things. You’ll just have to WAIT!”

    I dropped the tire off at another place on my way home. That was 30 years ago and I haven’t been back since.

  • UtahMama April 11, 2013, 11:27 pm

    Business owners like that tend to treat their employees as poorly as the customers. What was your experience there?

  • Alison Moore Smith April 11, 2013, 11:23 pm

    Left Field, I remember that place. Don’t think I ever patronized it. And, given your story, it’s probably a good thing or I’d be blogging about it this week, too!

    Thanks for sharing. Amazing.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Burger King Promotion FailMy Profile

  • Left Field April 13, 2013, 7:36 am

    It was definitely bizarre. I got my head bit off for nothing more than wanting to do business with them.

    Of course I haven’t lived in Utah since 1986, so I haven’t exactly had much opportunity for my boycott to make any difference. It could be under new ownership. It could be that the guy only worked there a couple of weeks before being fired for being rude to customers. But I still wouldn’t go back there.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 13, 2013, 10:12 am

    UtahMama. Hmmm. My experience at Burger King was varied. 🙂

    A woman I worked with was married and (very) pregnant. According to her (and the discussion was very open at work), she worked part time under her legal name and part time under her maiden name so she could get more hours without being given benefits.

    At the time, I thought the owners were evil incarnate for being cheap with benefits. Having owned a business and run a payroll, I see it a bit differently now. While I don’t condone lying to the government, I think it’s beyond idiotic that the government can tell businesses how to compensate. If someone is willing to work 80 hours per week with no health insurance, they should have that prerogative without interference. I could now just as easily see the owners as bending over backward to give more hours to a woman who desperately needed them — even though they could not afford the additional expenses of a “full-time” employee.

    The Christmas bonus for cashiers and cooks was…wait for it…a coupon for a free Whopper Jr. Yes, I said junior. Which, if memory serves me correctly, cost the company about 46¢. The night manager’s Christmas bonus was…wait even longer…a Burger King turtleneck. (A white mock turtleneck with the words Burger King repeatedly printed around the collar.) Oh, and we all got a candy cane.

    Now the truth is, they didn’t owe us a Christmas bonus. I never got a bonus at any other part time job I had. But the paltry nature of the bonus was a bit insulting to most. Maybe better to forgo it?

    The only other problem I had was when cash started going missing from registers. I was never told how much it was, but it was enough to be seen as more than miscounted change. When this happened, I was suddenly pulled back as a cook.

    This was very offensive and problematic. The drawers weren’t locked in any way, they were just regular kitchen drawers with a cash tray in them. And cashiers were repeatedly sent out to clean the dining room, wash windows, clean bathrooms, etc., during their shifts. So there was no way to secure your drawer.

    Finally I went to the day manager, Mark, and said, “If you think I’m stealing, fire me. But it’s wrong to impugn my character and make it look like I’m a their without giving me any chance to defend myself. And, for the record, if I were going to steal, I wouldn’t do it from my own drawer.”

    He put me back up front and it never came up again.

    I should mention that being required to wear brown/orange/yellow polyester pantsuits with matching stripey caps should be considered employee abuse, but I won’t. 😉

    All in all, I really hated working fast food, but it was honorable work with the opportunity to pay my expenses and learn some job skills. I appreciated the opportunity to work and to learn that I wanted to gain enough skills that I would never have to work fast food again. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…How to Choose an OrthodontistMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith April 13, 2013, 10:25 am

    Left Field, my oldest daughter has taken her car there, I’m pretty sure, and she was treated fairly. So I’m thinking you were there at bad phase or with a bad employee. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…The Pizza Factory Bait & Switch Promotion FailMy Profile

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